Saturday 12 April 2014

Day Trip To Cambridge 1

I am always up for a challenge and when Jim Long mentioned that Stagecoach's E400's were on a Scania chassis it seemed an ideal opportunity to see how the Cambridge Guided busway E400's are bearing up now they are 5 years old and hammering up and down the guided busway and on to Huntingdon and Peterborough everyday. I loved the busway when I first travelled on it a couple of years ago and that was reaffirmed today - there should be a national network of busways as far as I'm concerned - we have so many miles of disused railway lines that could be converted, and it would be a lot cheaper than trams. Include a walkway/cycle path alongside and hey presto.

The Cambridge to St Ives busway. A great concept
So the burning question is what are the E400's like? I clearly remember not having an issue with them the first time I travelled on them and I think I might owe Alexander Dennis a partial apology. Quite simply they rattle no more than the former X1 B9's do now. In fact the one I took the above pic from was virtually rattle free, and my sound readings were surprising too. According to my sound meter the Scania versions are 4Db quieter upstairs on average and quite simply downstairs they give the quietest reading I've ever taken downstairs on a decker - the Dennis E400's are by far the noisiest - at speed they are bordering on the levels that would have the Health and Safety people demanding the issue of ear protectors. I went on 4 E400's and none of them made me wince. The seats were TRULY comfortable, plenty of leg room, and by each pair of seats there is a power socket for phone/laptop chargers. There are air chill units but they appear to be saved for extreme temperatures as the buses come with the novel concept of windows that open, thus reducing the need for very loud air chill systems constantly working overtime during the journey.

Stagecoach 15456 Scania E400 AE09 GYC on the busway
15457 at the beginning of the busway in Cambridge
So my partial apologies to Alexander Dennis. Partial because no one will ever convince me that the E200 is anything but an abonimation that shoud have been scrapped at concept. However, the E400 Scanias have lasted the distance in Cambridgeshire. The E400 Dennis's belonging to Konect and Norfolk Green appearing to be doing ok and I certainly had no complaints about the Konect E400 I travelled on this week. So it begs the question even louder than before why on earth are the X1 E400's so poor? Is it the wrong chassis for such a demanding route and would the Scania chassis have been a better choice? Certainly on a volume level it would appear so. But that doesn't account for the rattling and general noise both passengers and drivers have to tolerate. The public deserve answers and dear Lord so do First.

But as for the Busway itself if you haven't travelled on it I implore you to get over to Cambridge and give it a go - you truly won't regret it - as a certain Vulcan might have said - "It's bus travel - but not as we know it!"

Stagecoach also run some Volvo B7rle's on the busway, Here is 21232 AE12 CJO


  1. Not all of Stagecoach in Cambridge's Enviro400s are Scania's. The Park & Ride fleet are all integral Alexander Dennis buses and I couldn't find a fault with them even though they were six years old when I last tried them out. I personally think that the A47 is the problem, especially the Acle straight seems to upset the buses. Flying along at 50 miles an hour down the Acle straight twice or three times a day (depending on the diagram) will certainly not do them any good.

  2. Yes I considered that Sam but the guided busway is 16 miles long in total and the buses are doing a constant 55 along there. It is also not the smoothest track in the world and certainly the route between St Ives and Peterborough isn't silky smooth either. Anyway have you been down the Acle straight on a gas bus?

    Thanks for the info about the P&R E400.s at Cambridge. Siince I don't drive now I doubt I will ever need one but had I heard one today I guess I'd have realised they were Dennis's.

    Lastly welcome back :)

  3. Well, I'm loath to get in a catfight about the X1 E400s, so I shan't comment on them directly.

    What I will say though is this:

    Neither the Konect or Norfolk Green E400s operate on routes anywhere near as demanding, lengthy and with numerous express sections as the X1 E400s, so I'd be surprised if they weren't doing well frankly.

    With regards to Stagecoach - they have a broad rule with their E400s (which they operate lots of); ADL chassis for short distance/urban routes (like P&R), Scania chassis for longer distance/inter-urban routes (like Gold). I believe Alexander Dennis market them as such too, with ADL being the lightweight and using less fuel option, while the Scania is the heavy duty for more demanding routes option, if you follow me.

    TL;DR - in response to your chassis question, here's another; If Stagecoach, who operate many E400s across the country, ran the X1 they'd have gone for the Scania without question. First chose not to do so. Who's right?

  4. I suggest you catch the B from Cambridge to Peterporough, then the X1 to Norwich and decide for yourself. If the Dennis's use less fuel it may sound attractive but may prove to be a false economy if you you use a pony to plough a field when a Suffolk Punch is available.

  5. Frankly (there's a bit of a hands up coming here, brace yourself :)) after being shaken to bits by 33815 recently I'd say Stagecoach.

    While I'm not that negative about the X1 E400s so far, it seems increasingly clear that as things stand they won't last the 5-6 years in service quite as well as the B9s have, which is a shame.

    The point I was getting at though is that First have got exactly what they ordered. IIRC the E400s were delayed by a month or so as ADL were ensuring First's demands and specs for the vehicles were met. With that in mind, if running lightweight vehicles proves to be a false economy on the route, then that is a responsibility that may lay at a few doors, but IMO ADL's isn't one of them.

  6. And that is a fair point - but did no -one at ADL advise those from First? If they didthen frankly heads should roll at First. If they didn't then heads should roll at both - ADL for selling a product knowing it wasn't fit for the purpose it was purchased for - and at £374k a piece that is some purchase, and First for not researching properly. If you're paying that much for a product you surely do the background checks to make sure it's going to do the job you want for as long as you want - regardless of the product.

    I guess the ultimate question is as follows: Does the longest bus route in the country deserve the best buses in the country?